Mexico, Off the Beaten Trek: Valladolid

Did you miss the introduction to Off the Beaten Trek? Diving the unspoiled reefs of Xcalak, meeting the crocodiles of Banco Chinchorro, exploring the jungle ruins of Calakmul and colonial Valladolid, diving in the “magical cenotes” and getting up close with the largest congregation of whale sharks in the world—these are just a few of the unique experiences that Yucatan Dive Trek can organize for small groups, families or individuals. This series follows a custom itinerary designed for Extratour, a specialty travel agency based in Germany.

Enclosed garden behind the 16th-century monastery, Valladolid, Mexico

Only a short drive from Mexico’s sparkling Caribbean coast (and the popular tourist hubs of Cancún, Playa del Carmen and Tulum), the colonial city of Valladolid remains a world apart. Its stone-paved streets and carefully restored historical sites offer a glimpse into the past, while Old World hotels and many fine restaurants ensure that every modern comfort is available.

Established in 1543 by Spanish friars, who in turn, built over an ancient Maya ceremonial center, Valladolid is the oldest city in Yucatán state. Today it has the comfortable, centuries-old air of a town in southern Spain, though with a growing cosmopolitan flair and distinctive cultural blend all its own. Part of its appeal may be due to its relative obscurity, though the city has been luring artists and expats from around the world for years. Since being designated a Pueblo Mágico (“Magical Town”) in 2012, Valladolid has come into its own as a destination—its colorful haciendas, unique artisan shops and relaxed vibe favored by couples and families more than package tour groups. Under the Pueblos Mágicos program, sponsored by a coalition of conservation-focused agencies, great care is taken to keep a town’s authentic look and feel. Tourist dollars are steered toward local businesses, and cultural and historic attractions that benefit the whole community are carefully maintained.

Brightly painted buildings line the streets of Valladolid in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula

“Coming straight from the jungle ruins in Calakmul to Valladolid gave a nice variety to our trip. Such a lovely city with so much history! It has a lot of character, with all the old colonial buildings, parks and churches. You really feel like you are in the heart of Old Mexico.”

– Kirsten Clahr, Extratour

A 16th-century church and former monastery, dedicated to San Bernardino de Siena, anchor the city’s very walkable downtown area, where artisans’ shops and quiet cafés are set amid lush gardens. A stroll along the wide (and traffic-free) “Avenue of the Friars” can easily take up half a day, with stops along the way to look at all the high-end crafts, and to sample local specialties like house-made chocolates and tequilas. Along with its many manmade charms, Valladolid is a natural beauty, built around several cenotes and surrounded by rainforest. Cenote Zací, just a few blocks from the main square, is a popular place to cool off on a hot afternoon, for locals and visitors alike.

Valladolid is also the perfect place to get acquainted with Yucatecan cuisine, a blend of flavors and techniques that evolved from the region’s many different culinary influences: Mayan, European, Caribbean and even Middle Eastern. From unique spins on the humble tamale to elaborate pibiles (marinated spiced meat, usually pork or chicken, slow-roasted in banana leaves) that take many hours to prepare; the food is very different from what most people think of as “Mexican” fare.

“Our Yucatan Dive Trek guide arranged everything for us: the best restaurants, a tour of the beautiful 16th-century monastery, and visits to places that you would never see in more touristy parts of the country—places we would not have easily found on our own. We visited hat-makers and perfume-makers who do everything by hand, and we stopped at a local tequila distillery for a tasting.”

An attractive destination on its own, Valladolid also makes a perfect base for exploring other parts of the region. Yucatan Dive Trek can organize daytrips to Izamal, Cobá, Mérida and more, as well as outings to lesser-known attractions, such as visiting Xkopek, a small farm and traditional apiary passed down in the same family for generations. The hosts offer a full tour of their property, set around a dry cenote in the rainforest, and Maya beekeeping demonstrations complete with honey tasting.

“I especially loved our visit to the Maya beekeepers! Such lovely people, and the dry cenote was so interesting to see, with all the native plants and insects.”

While hardly a secret anymore—The New York Times has called it “a city of Yucatán cool”—Valladolid remains a refuge from mainstream tourist centers, preserving its history and traditions while embracing a vibrant, multicultural future.

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Many thanks to Kirsten Clahr of Extratour and photographer Beo Brockhausen, who contributed first-hand trip reports and images to this Off the Beaten Trek series.

 

Yucatan Dive Trek is a full-service tour operator based in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, catering to travelers who seek authentic experiences and one-of-a-kind encounters. We specialize in unique diving holidays, organizing and customizing trips to the best destinations in the region—in and under the water as well as on land. Extension trips to Valladolid can be scheduled year-round. Please contact Yucatan Dive Trek for more information.

 

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